Here we have another one — a young Muslim guy arrested by the FBI after allegedly scheming to commit terrorist violence, when we don’t know to what extent the FBI concocted the scheme and to what extent the guy was bent on it independently.
The guy is a 26-year-old punk drummer with a degree in physics from Northeastern University who lived at home with his parents in the small town of Ashland, Mass., 25 miles this side of Boston. He is an American citizen of Bangladeshi descent.
His plan, formulated with the cooperation of the customary FBI “informant,” was to fly remote-controlled model airplanes filled with explosives into the Pentagon and the Capitol for the greater glory of Allah. The “informant” was identified only as someone who “has a criminal record and has served time in prison,” meaning the usual. The FBI gets some lowlife over whom it has leverage and sends him to the desired target.
How the targeting came about in this case we don’t know, just as we don’t know to what extent the “informant” informed on a criminal plan that was being developed anyway and to what extent he devised the plan himself, which is why I put “informant” in quotation marks. We know that in other cases the so-called informant has acted more as agent provocateur than mere passer of information.
I will say this: Going only by the 23-page indictment and the 42-page FBI affidavit, it looks as if the target, Rezwan Ferdaus by name, was a plenty fired-up fanatic on his own account, and what he is alleged to have said and done was more than enough to qualify him as at least an aspiring terrorist even if the FBI did entice him and lead him on.
I cannot tell from the legal papers to what extent the proposed aerial assault on the Capitol and the Pentagon was a realistic plan and to what extent it was a deranged fantasy that the FBI made material in order to score an arrest and appear as a great foiler of terrorism, though I must say, the idea of demolishing either of those great buildings with a 5-foot-long model plane filled with hand grenades or plastic explosives sounds somewhat less than realistic.
It was the FBI that paid for all the materials, at a cost of thousands of dollars, and there is no indication that Rezwan Ferdaus on his own would have gone anywhere with the plan, even if he did allegedly say at one point, “A real long time ago, before I met you guys, I was walking through the woods one day, and I thought I want to do some type of aerial plan.”
The reference to “you guys” was not only to the “informant” but also to a pair of “undercover employees,” as they were called, who joined the “informant” in trying to ensnare Ferdaus. No further information provided on them.
But it wasn’t just the fantasy scheme to take out the Pentagon and the Capitol with a couple of hobbyists’ model planes, that strikes me as typical FBI stuff. Ferdaus also stands accused of something more down-to-earth, and that is the rigging of cellphones as triggers for explosive devices to be used against American troops in Iraq.
He allegedly first gave one, then two more, then three more such rigged phones to the FBI guys, whom he believed were al-Qaida operatives, and offered to provide as many as 50.
Told that the first phone device had made possible the killing of three American soldiers in Iraq, he allegedly expressed satisfaction and said, “We’re changing the world.”
He also allegedly said to these presumed al-Qaida agents, “I want to work with you guys, and I want to hit the snake on the tail and I want to choke it right in the head. The world will never be the same.” And he said of his jiggered phones that the purpose was to “kill as many kafir as possible,” kafir being the Arabic word for infidels or non-believers.
So if these statements are correct and are fairly reported, he does not at all sound like an innocent fellow who was hoodwinked by the FBI into doing something that could be interpreted as support for terrorism, as the two men in Albany were hoodwinked in 2004.
He sounds like a religious fanatic whose hateful impulses and violent daydreams were brought down to earth by the FBI, which kept encouraging him and giving him money to buy his holy-war materiel — a model plane, six automatic rifles, 25 pounds of explosives, three grenades, and so forth, including rent on a storehouse for this stuff, at a total cost of at least $10,000 (the FBI affidavit does not total it up), so as to be able to arrest him for plotting terrorism against the United States.
The goofball even made an instructional video on how to use the phones to detonate explosives, just to show you how naive he was.
How far he would have gone without the FBI’s encouragement is impossible to say. One of the FBI undercover agents early on goaded him that he had “nothing tangible,” just talk, to which the poor sap allegedly said well, he needed funding. The FBI, of course, was happy to provide it.
We have heard only one side, and we have seen only selected quotes from the secretly recorded conversations, so it’s wise not to reach conclusions. We really don’t know how far the FBI went in promoting Ferdaus’s madcap ideas. We do know they went plenty far in helping him realize them.
Is this a proper use of government power? I don’t know. My own view is that hoodwinking law-abiding moderate Muslims is a disgrace.
Hoodwinking crackpot zealots, as Ferdaus appears to be, and helping them realize their violent but impractical dreams so as to be able to arrest them in the nick of time, that’s a little different.
I would feel better just monitoring somebody like him and waiting for him to do something illegal on his own before arresting him.
I don’t like the idea of government promoting crime in order to foil it. But that’s just my prejudice.
In my column the other day the citation I gave for the biblical injunction to use a paddle to cover one’s excrement lacked a digit. It should have been Deuteronomy 23:13, not 23:1.
I’ve got to be careful. Someone will go seeking instruction in these arcane matters, not find it where I directed him and lose confidence. So thanks to the reader who caught me.
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